Church says the million-strong population is ‘oppressed'

The Catholic Church leadership expressed concerns about the safety of Pakistani Catholics to U.S. diplomats, describing the sizable minority as “oppressed,” according to a cable sent out by a United States Embassy in 2001 (2205: confidential, dated November 19, 2001).

In late-2001, as the U.S. was preparing to go to war in West Asia following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Vatican's Deputy Foreign Minister-Equivalent, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, and East Asia and Afghanistan Desk Officer Monsignor Luis Marrano De Montemayor, met U.S. Ambassador Jim Nicholson and South Asia Bureau Afghanistan Coordinator Jeffrey J. Lunstead, in part to discuss the effect U.S. military actions would have on Catholics in Pakistan.

On Pakistan's stability

A cable describing the conversation states that Archbishop Migliore “worried” about “the risk to Pakistan's stability,” expressing “concern that the Kashmir situation and Afghan military campaign could destabilize the GOP [Government of Pakistan], with repercussions for Pakistan's sizeable Catholic minority” (2134: confidential, dated November 2, 2001).

In response, Mr. Lunstead suggested that Pakistan's decision to join the U.S.-led coalition created the opportunity to “face down radical Islam within Pakistan, thereby also bettering conditions for Pakistan's religious minorities,” Catholics among them, the cable says.

Vatican officials were not convinced, however. As of a November 14, 2001 meeting, close to two weeks after the original exchange, Monsignor Montemayor continued to express “grave concern” for both Pakistan's “one million Catholics, which the Vatican considers oppressed,” and for the nation's “overall stability” (2205: confidential, dated November 19, 2001).

The Vatican representative had reason not to trust Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf's government when it came to protecting Catholics, the cable says.

According to the cable, Monsignor Montemayor told Mr. Nicholson that “initially Pakistan's bishops had cautiously welcomed Musharraf's coup,” hoping that he “would ease anti-blasphemy laws,” which were “frequently employed to keep religious minorities,” including Catholics, “in check.”

However, Monsignor Montemayor alleged that, following the coup “the conditions of Pakistan's Catholics worsened,” the cable says.

As of early 2009, however, “the Pakistani Ambassador,” who is “based” outside of the country, “in Paris, maintains regular contact with the Holy See” (186500: confidential, dated January 9, 2009).

The cables were accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)